Thoughts and issues regarding the past and present of a great football club by "The Chronicler".

Monday, 20 April 2015

A Cup semi-final versus Liverpool? All you need is self-belief...

Hitherto, Villa's progress in the FA Cup had been noted but had not stimulated huge interest until Villa's local antagonists, the Albion, were put to the sword in the quarter-finals. By the time Villa found out that they were to be up against Liverpool in the semi-final, Villa's mostly improved performances since Tim Sherwood's arrival caused their faithful supporters to be more upbeat. Claims of "Tekkers will sort 'em out" and ambitious visions of a substantial Liverpool defeat became a normal form of communication from one Villa fan to another and on the blogs.
When, however, the due kick-off arrived the anticipation had been hushed just a little, but only a little. But when Baker went off injured after only about 20 minutes, it didn't look quite so good despite Villa's bright start. Yet another Villa centre-back had to retire to the bench: it had been like this all season, it seemed. Sherwood shook his head in disbelief.
Worse, Villa went behind and the replacement and still warming-up centre-back, Okore, was not only partly to blame for helping Liverpool to probe their way through, but it was also his knee that deflected the ball into the net when it looked as though the ball might have gone at least 10 yards wide. But then Tekkers did indeed "sort 'em out" with an emphatic finish after a glorious Villa move that sliced through the Liverpool defence down the left. It was back to all-square at half-time.
The second half came alight within 10 minutes of the restart when another glorious Benteke-Grealish-Delph move down the left ended with Villa's captain scoring as though scoring was a weekly activity for him. It wasn't: it was only his second of the season, and both scored in the Cup.
The fun didn't stop there. On at least two occasions it seemed Villa must add again to their tally; Liverpool seemed to be all at sea facing Villa's brilliant and incisive interplay, something that Villa's younger fans had not even seen before in their lifetime. The pre-match optimism had been totally justified.
It got to the point that Liverpool clearly lost faith in themselves as two or three headed chances went begging in the last quarter period of the game, but Villa were not to be outdone. After a mostly wretched season, Villa had played like a team completely reborn and, furthermore, a dominant team. Every player deserved high commendation for their effort, and three - Delph, Grealish and Benteke - were nothing short of outstanding.
Arsenal in the Final? It will be just another game to this lot!
Can a 58-year wait soon be over? Of course it can!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Earning your spurs!

If ever there was a day to need to 'earn your spurs', this was it - at Spurs.

There was something unsatisfactory about the home draw against QPR. Yes, Christian had spared our blushes, but we had not pulled away as we had hoped. We were given a lifeline, however, by QPR not overtaking us, but to follow it up Tim had a chance to show Spurs that they had been wrong about passing him up. The resulting Villa win and method had a touch of "Watch out Spurs, we'll be up there giving you an even harder time next season."

From keeper to striker, every Villa man was determined to play his part as a team. Some of the Villa players might be described as of the journeyman variety, but they kept together and did not flinch when the danger came, even when the mighty Clark left the field early. The keeper was well protected and they even tried to play football: it wasn't all hoof, and Villa had the best two chances to score apart from the effort that mattered - Christian's fifth in three matches.

The win also caused me to think back to November against Spurs and how Villa had led at half-time but fell mainly to 'the big man' being enticed into a foolish retaliation and thus 'saw red' in two ways. This time, Villa mainly kept their cool until late on, when Sanchez decided he didn't want to play at Wembley after all. Silly man; is he so certain that Villa will get through to the final? Next week's team might yet half consist of academy players with the injury and suspension list growing by the week.

There was something else extra fine about the win at Spurs. Last week the London press was pleased to inform us that Spurs had now provided more players to the England team than any other, a record that until that week had been held by Villa for many years. But going by today's showing I saw little from Spurs' English contingent that suggested they deserved their England record. For me, Delph and Cleverley consistently showed more enterprise and effort than anything those Spurs players could muster. Not that Cleverley is really a Villa player, though, and most likely will go elsewhere this summer. But we have Grealish - don't we - if only he will decide if he is English!

The Spurs match was noteworthy for even yet another matter! Villa scored their twelfth league goal since the arrival of Sherwood, eight league games ago. That represents the same number of goals as Villa scored in the preceding twenty-five (yes, 25!) matches. In his short time, Villa have also added three wins to the five that we had obtained before Tim's arrival. And to top it all, the matches involving teams around the Villa all went the right way (for Villa). Even Albion might get sucked into the panic at the bottom, but I would prefer to see Albion stay up. 

As I surmised a few weeks ago, a fifteenth-place finish (or better) is on the cards for Villa.


PLEASE NOTE: I still have a few copies of 'Aston Villa In A Nutshell', a low-cost primer of Villa's history added to all the main stats from 140 years of football.  However, as we're nearing the end of the season, I have decided to reduce the (UK only) price: one copy is now £6 (not £7) and a single order of three copies will only cost you £12 (that's £4 each). The book also contains an additional insert of more recent records added since the book was printed last year. Please click here for more info and link to my e-mail address to make your order - please do not use the on-line ordering facility for this offer. Thank you!